Sonic Haven is a newly formed German fourpiece and Frontiers Records project (well…), recently releasing debut power metal blast Vagabond to showcase their talents. Actually, their talents were by and large well known beforehand; fronted by Herbie Langhans (Firewind, Radiant, ex- Sinbreed), the group also features guitarist Carsten Stepanowicz (Radiant, Vike Tare), drummer André Hilgers (Silent Force, Bonfire, ex- Rage) and bassist Dominik Stotzem (Beyond the Bridge). Vagabond is a competent, well played debut, though not really one for the history books. Uplifting, soaring and anthemic, Sonic Haven hits plenty of those notes you’re fully expecting from your euro power metal album. Perhaps leaning toward the AOR side of things at times, the guys certainly play to their strengths; melodic interweaving akin to modern Pyramaze, and with vibes of ye olde German power metalle like Heavens Gate and the like – you can feel the Sascha Paeth influence.
The first act opens the album to sweeping guitar antics, flourishing solos and melodic vocals, slapping several well penned power metal bangers right out of the gate, Langhans’ performance in the chorus of Nightmares especially being a blast. The speedy approach kicks things off on a high note, but the spell is eventually broken as Keep the Flame Alive slows things down a notch. Stepanowicz’s melodic leads take the forefront, tossing catchy melodies and harmonic solos around himself throughout the runtime. The soloing is fresh and invigorating, adding heaps of harmonic charisma, while keyboards alongside the leads add further depth to the sound. Save the Best for Last is the token ballad of sorts, slowing things down to a near halt. While it does have a few qualities, it’s still the least engaging song on the album, feeling overlong and undeservedly sappy. Followed by a bit of filler, the album makes a bit of a drop in its final act, only picking up that sweet, hard hitting powerful momentum as closer Striking Back unleashes full force, resplendent riffage from Stepanowicz, thick bass lines to go with the Sabaton-esque drum lines and some of Langhans’ most powerful vocals on the album, which is saying something because the man is on fire.
Versatile and diverse, the album showcases the groups’ talents in the section of the melodic, and perhaps the finest moments are the faster tracks; glorious power metal dancing on a crystalline production, the sound crisp and clear. I Believe is an anthem to life, Langhans continuing the greatness he pulled on Symphonity’s The Choice back in 2016; its light and airy feeling contrasting against the almost-but-not-quite doom like The Darker Side, a Sabbath inspired affair that pulls some slower quirks - the real outlier on the album, but one that works. Stotzem manages some thick bass lines, shining the strongest in swift opener Vagabond and slower The Darker Side where his bass gets to glow on its own, rather than follow Stepanowicz’s riffing, Hilgers’ towering drum lines powering through in splendid fashion whilst Stepanowicz spits lightning. Vagabond is an accessible, modern sounding album with just the right blend of cheese and attitude to make for a joyride of a listen. Far from perfect and perhaps in need of an “epic” to round things off, it’s still a fine album in its own right. Hopefully other ventures and projects won’t steal the spotlight so that Sonic Haven can strike back like thunder.
Standout tracks: Nightmares, Keep the Flame Alive, Striking Back